Our reunion was filled with laughter and eager anticipation of our adventure. Our plane departed the next morning, and I’m not sure either of us got much sleep.
The longest leg of our journey was from Washington DC to Frankfurt, then a much-shorter flight from Frankfurt to Athens, and suddenly, just 15 hours on our bodies since we got up that morning, but 25 hours of lapsed time due to crossing 10 time zones, we arrived IN GREECE!
The tour company provided our transportation to the hotel, at 1 p.m. Athen’s time, and we had a couple hours to “acclimate” ourselves before the Tour Overview meeting and Welcome Dinner that evening.
Although neither one of us had gotten much rest on the flights over, Pat and I immediately set off to do a little sight-seeing and get our bearings around the hotel.
Then we met our fellow travelers for the first time. Two full-sized buses, filled mainly with people from the United States and Canada, would be traveling “together” for the duration of our adventure, and we had two tour guides, Mary and Karen, who both spoke pretty darn good English.
Pat and I were on “Bus 1″ with Mary, a curly-haired native of Athens, although we were almost always grouped together as a massive 90+ horde of tourists!
“Greece and Her Islands” said the promotional brochure, and I looked at the map and prepared myself to stay in Athens for a few days, then on the islands of Mykonos and Santorini for two days each.
What I did NOT prepare myself for was that the “Optional Tours” would include another half-dozen adventure-packed islands, including one that was uninhabited, but artifact-filled, one where I could hike up the side of a volcano, and another where I jumped from the boat to swim in the Aegean Sea… And the list goes on and on!!
Back in May, I’d planned to do this adventure alone, begrudgingly paying the “solo supplement” of about 150%… But fate intervened when a friend I met when she lived on the peninsula, and now lives in Utah, casually inquired during a phone conversation, “Would you like a traveling companion for that trip to Greece?”
And that’s how my friend Pat and I ended up half way around the world, navigating a foreign country, a foreign language, foreign foods, and a foreign currency exchange, and having a ball eating souvlaki and gyros and picking out potential men to bring back home with us….
Yes, I’m kidding about importing the men…
But I don’t want to give it all away… Please come back to this page often and enjoy all that we did in September exploring GREECE AND HER ISLANDS!!
For starters, Don made all the travel arrangements and reservations and did all the scheduling for both his mother and me. His “legwork” on the computer began in January, and our every whim about what we thought we wanted to do and see was thoroughly researched and planned.
They knew all the best places to eat, and I thoroughly enjoyed tasting foods that were well beyond “foreign” to me. Between the two of them, they knew enough of the language to order our meals so that I never got “poisoned” eating something I was allergic to— including soy, a mainstay of Asian food preparation!
Throughout our trip, I continually used the word “blessed.” It became a type of running joke, although it wasn’t a “joke” at all. The timing for events or transportation was impeccable. Our accommodations, all arranged online, were exactly what and where we wanted them to be. The weather, which could have caused considerable challenges, was perfect throughout.
We drove 75km, or about 45 miles, to a lesser-visited section of the wall: Mutianyu. “Where the sky meets the earth,” translated our guide.
We parked next to a “farmers’ restaurant” where the locals often ate, and were told we would eat there later that afternoon. As we hiked up the hill to the cable car landing, we noted that there was a Subway sandwich shop and a Baskin and Robbins along the way, and were glad we were not going to be eating lunch at an American chain restaurant.
I’ve written all about our experience ON the wall in a previous post. This is about what happened as we returned back to our starting point. We were a couple hundred yards from the restaurant, it started to sprinkle, and we quickened our pace. The sky was turning dark, and we could hear thunder, but being well below the crest of the hills, we couldn’t tell how far away the storm was.
We got inside, went upstairs and were seated next to a clear plastic tarp makeshift “window” wall. Within very few minutes, the lightning started, the thunder clapped right on top of us, and sky produced torrential rains that fell with a vengeance.
It was a sight to behold. And to think—we could have been out there in it, either walking on The Great Wall, or slipping and sliding back down the hill.
Not one of us was looking forward to stepping back outside into the deluge to run to the van, but as it turned out, we didn’t have to. As we gathered our things to leave the restaurant, it stopped raining!
I could relate dozens more examples, but just take my word for it—the whole trip was like that. Day after day, surprise after surprise, blessing after blessing, it was hard to believe how fortunate we were.
I am blessed to have had the opportunity to take this trip, and blessed that you’ve read along as I’ve revisited my Amazing Asian Adventure.
And you’re never gonna believe where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing while you’ve been busy reading these last few blog posts—
You DEFINITELY want to Stay tuned!
A miracle, you say?
When I packed for Korea, I packed one large and one smaller suitcase, since my ticket included two pieces of “free” checked luggage. Inside the largest suitcase, I packed a new pillow and a set of pillowcases, holding space, but never to return to the United States.
Inside the smaller suitcase, which I would take on the “side trips” to both Japan and China, leaving my larger one in Korea, I included an empty folded duffel bag to use as my carry-on for the return trip home.
As you can see in the photos, I stuck to lots of “little” souvenirs that don’t weigh much or take up much space. Refrigerator magnets and earrings are always my mainstay, but since I was in Asia, I added fans, scrolls, chop sticks, and Buddhist charms to my list.
Although I spent the most time in Korea, I bought the fewest treasures there, ranking each item for it’s “necessity.” In Japan, I relaxed my vigilance just a little and added many more items to the growing pile. The last stop was China, and by then I knew exactly how much room I had left, so I gave my inner tourist a lot more leeway.
I only bought four t-shirts on this trip—three at the Beijing Zoo (all were of Pandas, and two were for gifts) and one at the Xi’an City Wall of a Terra Cotta Soldier. Previously, I’ve purchased way too many t-shirts, and have literally drawers of unworn “souvenirs,” with the tags still on them, so I made a vow, and kept it, to limit myself to just two this trip.
A win-win, no doubt about it!
As I emptied out my purse, I saw that I still had a little currency from each of the three countries we’d visited. Very little. And that, of course, was a good thing.
Don and Chris will be visiting Japan next year, so I swapped out the yens (JPYs) and that money stayed with them. Then I decided to keep a couple wons from Korea and yuans (now called RMBs) from China as souvenirs.
It wasn’t that tough figuring out the exchange rates where we traveled. I’m pretty good at math, and in both Korea and Japan, it was mostly a matter of moving the decimal point on the paper money a couple hops to the left.
For instance, in Korea, 1,000 won (pronounced like “wand” without the “d”) equated to about 90 cents, but I rounded it off, and called it a dollar. So w3,000 for a bunch of bananas from the street merchants was a little less than $3.00.
In Japan, there was “one less zero” to deal with, and 1,000 yen was about $8, but I rounded that up too and simply moved the decimal point over two spaces instead of three spaces as in Korea. So Y1,000 equaled $10.
Then we went to China, and 1,000 RMBs (also called yuans, pronounced like yawns) were worth $161, and figuring the conversion is a lot harder than just moving decimal points. But by dividing the posted prices by six, I found I was always “close enough.” For instance, an entree on the dinner menu that cost Y90 was actually only about $6!
So except for the unfortunate silk factory fiasco (see August 31st post), I knew how much I was spending at all times, and stayed well within my travel budget for this amazing 30-day Asian Adventure.